When "Hard Knocks" comes around in the NFL offseason, it typically brings with it a few things: Raw summer footage of full-padded practices, inside access to foul-mouthed coaches and, most of all, the realization that football is finally right around the corner. This year, things are a little different, not only because HBO's annual series is featuring two teams for the first time, but because the shadow of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic still looms large.
Training camps are now guided by strict new protocols. Preseason games have been wiped off the schedule. Even SoFi Stadium, the luxurious new home to both the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams -- this year's "Hard Knocks" participants -- will have limited or no fans during its 2020 debut.
And yet that didn't stop "Hard Knocks" from pressing on. So guess what, boys and girls? It's time for some power rankings.
Who stood out in the premiere episode of this year's show? Let's get to the pecking order:
5. Tyrod Taylor
The Chargers quarterback deserves props for keeping a low profile and just going about his business, but let's be real: It doesn't make for good TV. This man is the starter at the most important position on an NFL team in Los Angeles, and we didn't catch a good glimpse of him until 40 minutes into the premiere. Anyone who played Where's Waldo and somehow spotted him during the Cleveland Browns' appearance on "Hard Knocks" in 2018 might not have even recognized him, either, now that he's rocking the untamed quarantine hair/beard combo. Did Tyrod spend his lock-down in the wilderness?
We didn't get a ton of stuff from Taylor's competition, but it was just enough to make you do a double take on L.A.'s QB situation. There's no doubt Taylor is set to open the year under center, but how can you watch Herbert -- namely his size and, as some Chargers defenders put it on Tuesday, "his balls" -- and not foresee L.A. getting antsy to unleash the rookie's arm this year? Yes, we're talking about hitting nets in pad-less walk-throughs, but Herbert really does throw a pretty pass.
3. Anthony Lynn, common man
The big news to come out of the premiere was Lynn's early admission that he's already tested positive for -- and overcome -- COVID-19. That was just the first sign that the Chargers coach is maybe the most down-to-Earth star of the show. In contrast to Rams coach Sean McVay, who literally made his debut sipping rosé with his fiancée at their poolside view of California (take that, Kliff Kingsbury), Lynn endeared himself to us by grilling chicken -- complete with a makeshift marinating brush constructed from his wife's good china -- and recalling his earlier NFL days. He may not be flashy, but he seems genuine. Plus-one for the Chargers.
2. The coronavirus tests
Predictably, most of the first episode was spent highlighting how much the pandemic has affected typical training camp operations. But who could've predicted how scared NFL players would be of the nasal swabs required to enter camp? If you've ever gotten a COVID test, you know the swab isn't exactly comfortable, but think about how many of these players make millions to beat each other up on a football field. Take Casey Hayward Jr., for example, who couldn't wait to get testing over with:
Coaches are already turning this idea of having "two opponents" in 2020 -- opposing teams and COVID -- into a cliche, but if the Chargers' coronavirus tests were any indication, well, L.A. could be in for a big fight this year.
1. Sean McVay as Jon Gruden
McVay's posh entrance may have seemed a touch too artificial compared to how we were introduced to Lynn and the Rams' cross-state counterparts. But man, there's something about his Gruden-esque mannerisms that grows on you. This guy hyped up his new face shield by pretending to draw plays on it. You could tell, even as he sat poolside early on, playing basketball with his dog, that he truly itched to be on the field. And holy smokes, does he sound so much like Gruden during his Zoom rants:
You know what? No complaining about it. It is hot as s--- in the Valley, man. I got this freakin' sun steamin' in here. I'm sweatin'. I'm excited ... Before I move on, does anyone need to go check their pants? Nobody s--- themselves yet? How much better will it be when we can say, 'Let's get up and do what we really do and play football, go line up ... This is why this Zoom stuff's for the birds ... I f---in' love football and I love you guys.
And that, friends, didn't even come close to matching his final lines of the episode:
Hey, and also, don't be the guy that takes a s--- in the Porta Pottys. I went in there, I about threw up, all right? Have a little bit more, uh, social awareness.